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E-service portal for freelance community: case study in photography business

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This study revealed the limitations of freelancers’ inability to perform portfolios and biographies, their performance ratings to a large community of customers. The difficulties were evident in searching for reliable, qualified and experienced freelancers from multi-channel information sources. These limitations might impact the ability of freelancers selected by customers to perform the required task to the customers’ satisfaction. This research focused on the case study of the freelance community for photography business in southern of Thailand. This aims to establish an online facility in which freelance photographers can publicize their services and performance to potential customers. The concepts entailed in web portals and e-services were the key elements in the development and ensured that its functions worked efficiently. The study employed qualitative methods were used to assess the current practices of web portal and thus determining the requirements for the e-service web portal for freelance community. The practical contribution is that it can aid the effective design and implementation of an e-service web portal for the freelance community of photography business, and it is a massive step towards promoting the freelance community in Thailand.
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International Journal of Electrical and Computer Engineering (IJECE)
Vol. 12, No. 2, April 2022, pp. 1759~1767
ISSN: 2088-8708, DOI: 10.11591/ijece.v12i2.pp1759-1767 1759
Journal homepage: http://ijece.iaescore.com
E-service portal for freelance community: case study in
photography business
Supaporn Chai-Arayalert, Supattra Puttinaovarat, Nattaporn Thongsri
Faculty of Science and Industrial Technology, Prince of Songkla University, Surat Thani Campus, Surat Thani, Thailand
Article Info
ABSTRACT
Article history:
Received Jan 26, 2021
Revised Sep 9, 2021
Accepted Oct 2, 2021
This study revealed the limitations of freelancers’ inability to perform
portfolios and biographies, their performance ratings to a large community of
customers. The difficulties were evident in searching for reliable, qualified
and experienced freelancers from multi-channel information sources. These
limitations might impact the ability of freelancers selected by customers to
perform the required task to the customers’ satisfaction. This research focused
on the case study of the freelance community for photography business in
southern of Thailand. This aims to establish an online facility in which
freelance photographers can publicize their services and performance to
potential customers. The concepts entailed in web portals and e-services were
the key elements in the development and ensured that its functions worked
efficiently. The study employed qualitative methods were used to assess the
current practices of web portal and thus determining the requirements for the
e-service web portal for freelance community. The practical contribution is
that it can aid the effective design and implementation of an e-service web
portal for the freelance community of photography business, and it is a
massive step towards promoting the freelance community in Thailand.
Keywords:
E-service
Freelancers
Photography business
Web portal
This is an open access article under the CC BY-SA license.
Corresponding Author:
Supaporn Chai-Arayalert
Faculty of Science and Industrial Technology, Prince of Songkla University, Surat Thani Campus
Mueang Surat Thani District, Surat Thani 84000, Thailand
Email: supaporn.chai@psu.ac.th
1. INTRODUCTION
The influence of e-businesses has changed the face of the photography business and careers by
creating a larger number of freelance or independent photographers who hire out their services [1], [2]. In 2011,
Adler and Sillars [3] studied that the initial problem is difficult to become widely known since one’s reputation
spreads only by word of mouth. Therefore, in order to have more customers, one’s work must be good and it
may be difficult for newcomers to the photography profession to obtain work if they are unknown to their
potential customers and have no pre-existing reputation. The fact that customers do not know newcomers may
lead to unwillingness to rely on them while, at the same time, potential customers may not know how to
approach photographers who are new to the field, nor will those photographers necessarily understand the
customers’ requirements and thus produce work as required by them. To solve these problems, apart from
having acquaintances as customers or relying on word of mouth, photographers must look for opportunities to
make themselves known to the public, for instance, by advertising their ability on webboards or other media
[1], [2]. There is an important way of gaining contacts, showing one’s professional profile on social network,
blogs, or websites, sharing and posting one’s portfolio with contact details on the social media of related
photography associations or establishing photography associations among peers. In 2013, Photoshelter and
Agency Access, conducted a survey relating to how customers gain access to and assess photographers’
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services among 340 American users who had used such services in the United States. The results revealed that
the users accessed photographers through search engines (42.1%), from the photographers’ web directory
(25.2%), from web portfolios (12.1%), from friends and acquaintances (10.5%), and direct from the websites
of individual photographers (10.2%) [4]. The survey also revealed the most important factor that helped
customers to gain convenient and rapid access to photography businesses and services was the use of online
media. Despite the availability of online business sites such as Upwork, Freelancer, Guru, and which provide
services for freelance workers, such websites do not specifically focus on freelance photography nor have they
developed their systems to cover their employment in the context of Thailand.
The inspiration for this project came from the requirements of the business community in southern of
Thailand, who wanted to connect with the freelance photographers through an online medium. The attempt to
establish a web portal to allow freelance community in the Southern region of Thailand to take advantage of
web portal technologies was a significant step. This is understandable given that this was a very forward-
looking, and innovative project. It would probably have been better to scope of the portal and to treat it as a
pilot project. Web portals provide a blend of information, applications and services. They are a single point of
access to information [5], [6]. The importance of developing web portals is continuously attracting users by
serving as a gateway to information or services with specific interests. The satisfaction of users is a primary
goal for the development and operation of web portals [7].
This study therefore focuses on the development of web portal for freelance photographers and also
on dealing with a number of issues relating to the hiring of freelance photographers. The first issue is that the
main methods of making contact with photographers in order to hire one are by using the telephone or by
personal contact and, in the past, these were the main means by which a photographer might introduce
her/himself to those seeking photography services. However, with the availability of social media [1], [2],
while photographers can conveniently introduce themselves and their work to potential customers without
actually meeting or speaking with them, this leads to the problem that as the number of photographers increases,
so does the amount of photographers' work that can be viewed online, and it may be less likely that a potential
customers view a specific details because of the large number of portfolios available online. Second, it may be
difficult for customers to locate skilled and experienced photographers with the required qualifications because
information obtained from websites may not be completely reliable, and this may lead to the customer being
dissatisfied with the work produced, which may lead to late or disputed payment of the fee.
This leads to the research question “How can e-service web portals be designed and developed, in
particular for the freelance community case study in photography business?”. The research objective is to
design and develop the e-service web portal for freelance photographers. It offers a digital platform where
buyers and freelance photographers can meet and take actions to deal with each other. In light of these issues,
this study proposes a web portal with the particular aim of allowing photographers to introduce their work and
manage and disseminate information relating to their services. The following section of this article reviews
previous literature relating to web portals and is followed by a review of e-service. The research methodology
is then presented, followed by a description of the implementation and the results of a system evaluation, and
the paper ends with discussion and a conclusion.
2. BACKGROUND
2.1. Web portal
Web portals are designed as innovative self-service technologies that offer a single point of access to
information and services, almost unlimited content as well as applications and excellent retrieval facilities that
enable one-stop service [8], [9]. By integrating a web portal technology with existing business processes, portal
owners hope to create an effective channel to communicate with users, as well as other stakeholders. For
potential users, web portals are a platform that enables them to become acquainted with an organization, to
explore its goods and services, and to make inquiries. For existing users, web portals are a place to become
more familiar with the organization, to obtain product and service-related information, to request services, and
to exchange information with peer users of the same goods and services. With online business now playing
such an important role in the economy, there has been a rapid increase in the number of people opting to work
as freelance photographers [2], allowing them to work independently and sell their services and work to a wide
range of companies and individuals. They can also be more flexible in regard to the place and time that they
work, which can be either full-time or part-time. Flexibility and independence are the keys to this important
transformation. Having a pool of independent workers answers the business problem of employers needing to
employ varying numbers and types of workers based on their workload and the abilities required. Despite the
availability of portal sites such as Upwork, Freelancer, Guru, and which provide a variety of services on
freelancers, such websites neither specifically focus on the information of freelance photography services nor
develop their systems to cover the employment features in accordance with the Thai context.
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A community web portals evolved from web communities of interest, in which portals were created
to meet the interests of a specific group and can be defined geographically [7], [10]. This community web
portal is defined as an Internet facilitated gateway for a community of freelance photographers (subscribers),
providing standardized access to other subscribers, resources and functions. Users navigate to access a range
of goods and services offered by the portal. Therefore, the community web portal of freelance photographers
acts as a moderator between freelancers (or suppliers of services) and buyers of services and earns revenue
from a marginal fee or a percentage of the total payment transaction. This research creates a platform to post
job vacancies and lets freelancers to add their profile and services on the portal sites. The buyers of services
are the clients’ bringing jobs to the marketplace, while the sellers are the freelancers looking for work.
2.2. E-service concept
An electronic service (e-service) is an interactive, and web-based service. An e-service is provided
through a virtual environment that covers various business operations, such as management, marketing, sales,
advertising, and public relations [11][13]. In this study, a particular e-services technology was employed in
which users were able to conduct different forms of operations themselves. The e-service are described in [9],
[14] covering the core, facilitating, and supporting e-services. The main objective of this research is to create
a web portal as an e-service for photographers and potential customers who want to hire photographers. Based
on the literature review [9], [14], [15], the following contents of the e-service for freelance photographers were
established in this study.
The core e-services are the basic and main services of businesses. The core e-services are designed to
meet the primary demand need of a particularly described target group, including the management of
photographers’ portfolios and profiles, information about photographers, the ability to upload and share
photographs and albums and to search for photographs and photographers, stock photographs and photograph
descriptions including image-editing descriptions and photo album organization. The facilitating e-services
enable to use the core e-services, including registration, reviews and comments, communication channels and
privacy policy. The supporting e-services are used for increasing value or in order to distinguish the core e-
services among services provided by competitors, and help both the core, and facilitating e-services. The
supporting e-service consists of communication channels and notification services.
Therefore, the e-service web portal for freelance photographers integrates both photographers’
information and their portfolios. In addition, it contains tools to allow search for information and the sharing
of knowledge and experience. It acts as an e-service through which both photographers and their customers
can achieve their aims. The photographers are able to record and disseminate information and promote their
work while the customers can search for the photographers and photography types they require. Customers can
additionally express their opinions and rate the performance of the photographers.
3. RESEARCH METHOD
This research was conducted in a qualitative approach. The methods of data collection were comprised
of document analysis and interviews, and data was analyzed and developed into an e-service portal application
and, finally, system evaluation related to the efficiency of the proposed system was performed. Participants are
30 members of the photography club, freelance photographers or potential customers. The profiles of
participations are that 90% are aged between 18 and 21, and 93.33 % have been using the Internet for more
than 4 years. 36.67% of participants have used photographers or photography services for graduations,
weddings, and ceremonies. Participants acknowledge information or use the photographer services from social
media, friends, and websites respectively.
In this study, an evolutionary prototype was created as a visualized simulation of the system. Then its
capabilities were extended until all the functions needed for the actual system were available according to the
users’ requirements [16]. The users participated in all stages of the prototype development which enabled them
to understand the overall system so that they were subsequently able to easily operate it [17]. The prototyping
development began by selecting the main functions and creating the prototype. Then the system was evaluated
by the users and the prototype was adjusted based on any recommendations from the users. When the initial
prototype was accepted, it was developed and more functions for other phases were added until it was
completely developed. At that stage, system testing was conducted.
The design and development of an e-service web portal involves gathering the requirements,
developing and refining the prototype, and implementing a real system. Firstly, the gathering requirement is
the users’ needs were determined through interviews relating to requirements and potential problems, which
were summarized in a user requirement and a system specification. Secondly, conducting a quick design,
creating a prototype, evaluating the prototype, and refining the requirements, a system prototype was developed
to allow the users to easily and quickly understand the system and to enable them to rapidly evaluate the
appropriacy of the system for their requirements. The outcome was a prototype that was accepted by the users.
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The design was conducted based on the users’ requirements by designing the main module of the system, then
developing a prototype by placing the required contents in their positions on a layout. This design process
helped the users to understand the simulation of the system being developed. The users are then able to try out
the prototype and give feedback. Components which were identified as missing or unsatisfied by the users were
then improved and the prototyping system was then developed to its final result. Thirdly, the prototype was
further developed and was upgraded to a real application. The system testing was conducted to ensure that the
system works in accordance with the system objectives and the users’ needs, while mistakes which may occur
when the software is used in a real environment are prevented.
4. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
4.1. System overview
The system, as illustrated in Figure 1, is divided into three modules of functions and services,
including core e-services, facilitating e-services and supporting e-services. Additionally, this system integrates
the 4C of web portal aiming to support the operation and quality of the e-service web portal. First, web portal
contains primarily of content from different structures, formats, and standards. Web portal’s activities include
the collection, selection, systematization, processing and distribution of information. It should provide an easy
way to access relevant content [18], [19]. Its content is all related information and services that are necessary
for supporting the closure of business deals efficiently. The availability of relevant, accurate and quickly
accessible information on portals is important function of web portals [20], [21]. Second, web portal is
characterized mainly through the aggregation, sorting and processing of information. Web portal should
minimize customer effort through a playful and smooth navigation as well as a logical order of information
presentation [20], [22], for example, search engines and directories that structure the portal’s information and
provides the possibility to find an optimal offer immediately. In addition, web portal arranges the ability to
monitor and control the system’s security [19]. Third, web portal provides infrastructures that help the effective
communication between users [18], [19]. Web portal contains not only the communication from the user to the
web portal provider but also the interaction between the users themselves. Various tools are available, for
example e-mails, chats, and discussion forums. Communication tools facilitate the exchange of information
and the building of long-term contacts to other users [20], and as a way of helping efficient work collaborations
[6], [23], [24]. Forth, web portal conducts and handles the business transactions over the Internet. Web portal
provides both sellers and buyers an efficient environment.
Figure 1. System overview of e-service web portal
The system focuses on two main groups of users: freelance photographers (suppliers of services) and
customers (buyers of services). Customers are able to conduct searches for information themselves and obtain
interesting information relating to photography, while a specific section is provided for them to express their
opinions and exchange ideas. Customers search for information by typing in keywords, such as a
photographer’s name, a venue where the service is required, a hiring rate or a type of photography. They can
also observe the photographers’ information and profile prior to hiring that photographer and the customers
can comment about and rate the photographer’s performance after they have used their service. Photographers
must apply as members listed in the system and their identities are inspected and confirmed prior to their being
entered on the list of photographers in the system. The system can also record the photographers’ personal
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information and display their portfolio, and also includes details of venues and places where they can work as
well as their hiring rates and the means by which they can be contacted directly.
In the front-end system, photographers who want to sell photography services on a portal, must
register themselves. When registration is complete, their biography, hiring rates, and are provided.
Photographers can manage their portfolios and profiles in order to present and promote their expertise.
Photographers can self-promotion and job self-posting. Their photographs are organized in case of graduation
events, individual/fashion events and wedding receptions, and photographs’ details such as, image details
including exchangeable image file format camera model, speed shutter, F-number, ISO, focal length, date and
time, are also provided. This system provides function search covering basic and advanced search. The basic
search can be done based on the photographer’s name, and if required, an advanced search can be done by
identifying the type of work, duration, rate or venue, and the output is a list of photographers who meet or
nearly meet the user’s requirements. This system has a function to invite photographers to work with us through
social media. It contains comments, reviews and rating functions that focus members are able to comment on
and rate photographers and their performance. Webboard function can be used for exchanging ideas and sharing
knowledge. This system provides customer testimonials in order to create trust in the audience. It also makes
the audience feel content to use our service once they visit our site. The back-end system consists of the admin
functions, the photographers’ status confirmation, their profiles and their biographies; and the dashboard
module includes statistical reports relating to: numbers of photographers and their statuses and whether they are
confirmed and unconfirmed as members; the photographers’ portfolios; customers’ comments on photographers’
performance and photographers’ rating scores.
4.2. System evaluation
4.2.1. Evaluation
System evaluation was performed by a sample group consisting of 30 members of the photography
club, freelance photographers or potential customers. The evaluation tool was a questionnaire completed by
the participation group who rated the system’s abilities on a 5-point Likert scales anchored by 5 as strongly
agree to 1 being strongly disagree. The questionnaire was divided into commerce, content, context, and
communication [18], [25], [26]. The results of the evaluation will be used to further develop the prototype
system prior to the implementation of the real system. The results showed that the overall level of user
satisfaction was at score 𝑥̅= 4.049, with the following details:
Commerce dimension shown in Figure 2(a) was evaluated at a high level (𝑥̅= 3.973) with the rating results,
respectively from the highest to the lowest being for (a) ease-to-use search engine; (b) well-designed
homepage; (c) providing self-promotion function; (d) sufficient report and summary information;
(e) well-organized content structure; and (f) ability to manage user information.
In terms of content shown in Figure 2(b), users expressed their overall satisfaction with a score of 𝑥̅=4.048,
with the rating results ranking from the highest to the lowest for (a) appropriate functions and tools,
(b) adequate security features; (c) ability to create portfolios and profiles, (d) proper use of multimedia,
(e) up-to-date information; and (f) relevant and useful information.
Context dimension shown in Figure 2(c) was evaluated and rated overall at a score of 𝑥̅ =4.0874, details
as following. Users expressed their satisfaction with the rating results ranging from the highest to the
lowest for (a) well-design user interface; (b) standard system design; (c) easy to learn and use; (d) system
speed and performance, (e) managing user authorization, (f) providing support function and user manual; and
(g) adequacy of navigation system.
Communication dimension shown in Figure 2(d) was evaluated on an overall level at a score of 𝑥̅=4.086,
with the rating results, respectively from the highest to the lowest being for a) reviewing and rating product
and service; (b) providing multi-channel communication; and (c) providing a knowledge sharing zone.
4.2.2. Lesson learned
After finishing the evaluation, participants gave their feedback regarding the overall satisfaction of
the portal. They elaborated on what they liked most and least, as well as the suggestion for improving the
portal. Most participants liked the user interface and standard system design. They applauded the portals'
architecture for being simple, understandable, and transparent. Following that, the majority of participants
appreciated the feedback mechanism inside the portal, which included ranking and evaluating by their
customers. Furthermore, participants applauded the intuitiveness and learnability of the portal. They mentioned
that the portal is simple to use for both the first time and for returning users. Additionally, participants stated
that the portal was well-designed for multi-channel messaging (online vs offline). Moreover, the security
features of the portal were deemed adequate by participants.
On the other hand, some participants expressed confusion about the design of hierarchically organized
subject directories, followed perhaps by hypertext browsing, to locate relevant information. If in-context help
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could be provided, they were all for including it in their portal, and believed that users then would take
advantage of it. Moreover, participants had experienced difficulty in managing the user information module,
such as the uploading feature sup ports few file formats and the maximum upload size was not apparent. They
further suggested that this portal prototype should be given the information to complete the process. This
system should be improved, according to the participants' suggestions.
(a)
(b)
(c)
(d)
Figure 2. System evaluation by users based on (a) commerce dimension, (b) content dimension,
(c) context dimension, and (d) communication dimension
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5. DISCUSSION
The attempt to establish and maintain a web portal to allow freelance community in the Southern
region of Thailand to take advantage of emerging technologies was a brave move. However, given the lack of
opportunities for freelance community to engage in online business, it was a worthy one. This is understandable
given that this was a very forward-looking, and innovative project. It would probably have been better to scope
of the portal and to treat it as a pilot project.
Some obstacles for freelance photographers were revealed in this study including the limitation to
announcement the photographers’ portfolios, and their biographies and performance to a large community of
users. Moreover, some difficulties were evident in searching for qualified and experienced photographers since
the information presented relating to available photographers might not be reliable. There was also noted to be
insufficient vetting of the information uploaded by the photographers since the communication channels in the
system are fundamentally informal. These limitations might impact the ability of photographers (sellers of
services) selected by customers (buyers of services) to perform the required task to the customers’ satisfaction
and thus affect the payment of the agreed fee by the customers, the finding which is in line with those of
previous studies [27], [28]. Despite the above limitations, this study developed an e-service web portal for
freelance photographers and their customers with the aim of establishing an online facility on which
photographers could publicize their services and performance to potential customers, who could search for and
access information relating to photographers including their portfolios, and on which knowledge could be
exchanged relating to photography. The concepts entailed in web portals and e-services were the key elements
in the development of the system and ensured that its functions worked correctly and adequately.
Freelance photographers' services are available both offline and online media. The ability to engage
their services online offers advantages through cost saving and offers the advantage of being able to contact a
wider range of customers and facilitating the development of customer relationships. Nevertheless, there are
some limitations in the use of online media [27], [29], for instance, for photographers in the early stages of
their career, it is difficult for them to make their work well-known, and for customers, the extent to which they
can rely on a particular photographers’ services is limited without having accurate information about their past
performance with a wider community of users. Moreover, customers’ may have to rely o n the photographers’
portfolio, which may or may not be an accurate reflection of their ability to use photographic equipment in
accordance with the customers’ objectives. Finally, searching for photographersbiographies based on the
required service areas may also be difficult. In Thailand, freelance photographers are only available within
certain areas, mainly around the capital or in large cities, while in other regions, there may be a lack of sources
of information about both beginner and professional photographers and a lack of channels through which to
exchange knowledge or discuss problems. This is consistent with a previous study [2], [30] which emphasized
the problems of freelance artists in Australia and eventually developed a local community marketplace for
artists to work together along with business establishments. However, that study focused on a purposively
selected sample group in a specific area and its findings may not be generalizable beyond its immediate context.
It is therefore expected that the system developed will help to create an online community among those
interested in photography and who possess the ability to use information technology, especially, e-service
technology and web portals, and will extend their ability to both provide and access information relating to
photography services.
6. CONCLUSION
This study aims to establish an online facility in which freelance photographers can publicize their
services and performance to potential customers. The concepts entailed in web portals and e-services were the
key elements in the development and ensured that its functions worked efficiently. The practical contribution
is effectively design and implementation of an e-service web portal for the freelance community of
photography business, and it is a massive step towards promoting the freelance community in Thailand.
There are limitations to this study because the system developed was a prototype and the target group
sampled for the assessment of the system were restricted to staff and students within a university. The research
is an early stage of an e-service web portal which is specific requirements to the local community. Future
studies should, therefore, be extended to the universal e-service web portal, which serves the needs of the
international community and users worldwide.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
The authors gratefully acknowledge research support from Prince of Songkla University Surat Thani
Campus. The authors would like to express their gratitude to Mr. Michael Currie, from the Publication Clinic,
Research and Development Office, Prince of Songkla University, for help in manuscript preparation.
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BIOGRAPHIES OF AUTHORS
Supaporn Chai-Arayalert is a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Science and
Industrial Technology, Prince of Songkla University, Surat Thani Campus, Thailand. She
obtained Ph.D. degree in Informatics from the University of Reading in UK. Her teaching and
research interests include Information Systems, E-commerce, digital marketing, IT project
management, Green IT, and knowledge management. Her research has been published in
journals such as Cogent Social Science, International Journal of Emerging Technologies in
Learning, Creativity Studies, and Cogent Business & Management. She can be contacted at
email: supaporn.chai@psu.ac.th.
Int J Elec & Comp Eng ISSN: 2088-8708
E-service portal for freelance community: case study in photography business (Supaporn Chai-Arayalert)
1767
Supattra Puttinaovarat received the B.B.A. degree (Hons.) and the M.S. degree
in management of information technology from the Prince of Songkla University, Thailand,
in 2007 and 2010, respectively, and the Ph.D. degree in information technology from the
Suranaree University of Technology, Thailand, in 2016. She is currently an Assistant
Professor with the Faculty of Science and Industrial Technology, Prince of Songkla
University, Surat Thani Campus, Surat Thani, Thailand. Her research interests include flood
modeling, geographic information systems, remote sensing, e-learning, and machine learning.
She can be contacted at email: supattra.p@psu.ac.th.
Nattaporn Thongsri is currently a lecturer in the faculty of Science and
Industrial Technology, Prince of Songkla University, Surat Thani Campus, Thailand. She
received Ph.D. degree major in Management Science and Engineering from the School of
Management, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, China. Her teaching
and research interests include structural equation modelling, technology acceptance,
educational informatics and electronic commerce. Her research has been published in journals
such as Behaviour & Information Technology, Innovations in Education and Teaching
International, Journal of Systems and Information Technology and The International Journal
of Information and Learning Technology. She can be contacted at email:
nattaporn.th@psu.ac.th.
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